I've been writing about hockey since the late 1990s. First it was the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and the Cincinnati Cyclones for the Cincinnati Post, and most recently with WCPO and the Blog of Brotherhood online.
Notes: Barry was leading Holy Cross in points last season when he decided to transfer to Miami.
He was coming off a huge first and only
season in the USHL, during which he scored 17 goals and picked up 37
assists. His 14 playoff points that year helped Youngstown earn a
trip to the Clark Cup final.
He’s been a points machine everywhere
Where he fits in this season: Because Barry transferred midway through 2018-19, he will have to sit out the first half of this season. This will be his sophomore season, and he will have two more years of eligibility remaining.
But in January, Miami is hoping he
provides a significant offensive punch like he has at every other
Notes: Kraws put up stupid good numbers several seasons ago with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres of the OJHL, putting him on the draft map for North American goalies, but his USHL stats have been rather pedestrian.
Kraws has posted save percentages of
.895 each of his two seasons with Sioux City and a goals-against
average well north of 3.00.
He was exceptional in his playoff starts for the Musketeers this spring, and hopefully he rides that confidence into this season.
Where he fits in this season:Ryan Larkin has been The Man in net for the past three seasons, and he appears poised to resume that role for his senior campaign.
But Larkin has not been the most durable goalie in his three years at Miami, and Kraws has plenty of talent. With Kraws potentially in line to take over starting duties in 2020-21, he may see his share of starts this season.
5 Jack Clement
From: Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
2018-19 team/stats: Des Moines (USHL), 60 GP, 2-12-14, 45 PIM.
Notes: Clement was solid in his first USHL season after going 11-21-32 in the NAHL a year prior.
Originally a Nebraska-Omaha commit, the
Detroit-area product was a Michigan high school stud, captaining
Brother Rice where he won a pair of state titles and earned MLive
Detroit player of the year honors as a senior.
In juniors, he has established himself
as a quality tough-to-play-against defenseman who can also dish the
puck, evidenced by his 12 assists in 2018-19.
Where he fits in this season: With Grant Hutton and River Rymsha gone, Clement should be a favorite to take over one of the starting jobs on D.
Blueliner height shouldn’t be an issue this season with Clement coming in at 6-feet-4 and joining Brayden Crowder and Andrew Sinard, who are both even taller.
Notes: Sladic has recorded 101 points in two seasons with Aberdeen and went 6-4-10 in 12 playoff games as the Wings won the Robertson Cup this spring.
He notched 39 points in his first
season with Aberdeen and vaulted to 62 in 2018-19, which is very
encouraging, but the NCHC is a major jump from the NAHL, and big
numbers in the latter haven’t always translated in the best
conference in D-1.
Where he fits in this season: Miami has struggled to find production beyond its top line for the past several seasons, so the door should be open for Sladic to earn ice time right away.
He’s definitely a playmaker and has
good speed, so hopefully his game will play at this level.
In June, Scott Sandelin signed a four-year extension with UMD.
That might have been one of the easiest coaching decisions in Division I hockey history.
All the two-decade tenured head coach of the Bulldogs did was win national championships the past two seasons following a second-place finish in the 2016-17 NCAA Tournament.
And with three of its top five scorers back from 2018-19, as well as several of the league’s best defensemen plus goalie Hunter Shepard, Minnesota-Duluth could make a run at a third consecutive NCAA title.
View From the Glass takes a look at UMD in Part II of its seven-part 2019-20 preview series.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: D Nick Wolff, D Scott Perunovich, D Dylan Samberg, F Noah Cates, F Nick Swaney, G Hunter Shepard.
KEY NEW FACES: F Brady Meyer, G Ryan Fanti, F Luke Lohoit.
KEY LOSSES: F Parker Mackay, F Peter Krieger, F Billy Exell, F Riley Tufte, D Mikey Anderson.
NOTES: The walrus-in-net commercial that run this spring wasn’t much of a stretch for opponents trying to score on Minnesota-Duluth.
UMD allowed just 79 goals or 1.88 per
game, the third-best average in Division I. Minnesota-Duluth killed
penalties at an 85.7 percent clip, second best in the NCHC.
UMD’s defensive prowess starts with Hunter Shepard in net. Shepard played all but 16 minutes in 2019-20, winning 29 games and posting a 1.76 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
The senior has logged over 5,000
minutes in three seasons, posting 54 wins, 15 shutouts, a 1.84 GAA
and .924 save percentage.
Freshman Ryan Fanti will likely enter the season as the Bulldogs’ backup goalie as he hopes to become the latest NAHL netminder to excel in Duluth.
On the blue line, UMD returns five of its six starters from a team that surrendered only 23.4 shots a contest in 2018-19. Dylan Samberg led the Bulldogs’ D-corps with seven goals and notched a team-best plus-22 rating.
Shut down D-men Nick Wolff – who was named captain – Louie Roehl and Matt Anderson all dressed for all 42 games last season.
Despite finishing tied for fifth in
Division I in goals (133), only two players reached the 30-point
Scoring leader Parker Mackay graduated, but junior Justin Richards is back after going 12-20-32 and registering a plus-20 rating. He had 18 points in conference play.
Junior Nick Swaney jumped from six goals as a freshman to 15 sophomore year, and Noah Cates – a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick – led all freshmen in goals (9), assists (14) and points (23).
Cole Koepke was another key contributor as a freshman, as the Tampa Bay Lightning selection scored seven times and picked up 12 assists.
Junior Kobe Roth scored eight goals, and sophomore Jackson Cates and Tanner Laderoute combined for 15 markers.
If UMD has a weakness this season, it may be that scoring depth, as four key forwards are gone from 2018-19 and the Bulldogs don’t have a ton of offensive studs coming in this fall.
Brady Meyer has spent two seasons in the USHL, and Luke Lohoit was drafted by Ottawa in the seventh round.
Minnesota-Duluth is the only NCHC team
Miami doesn’t visit this season, which may be fortunate for the
RedHawks, who are 1-12-1 in Duluth all-time.
Eric Rud joined the Miami hockey coaching staff in May, bringing with him a myriad of coaching experience at several levels.
Following a stellar career at Colorado
College during which the defenseman amassed 22 goals and 90 assists,
he logged 319 minor league games in the ECHL, IHL and WCHL.
Rud (pronounced RUDE) was an assistant at both CC and St. Cloud State, and most recently he was the head coach of the SCSU women’s team the past five seasons.
VFTG recently talked to the associate
VFTG: So head coach Chris Bergeron was obviously the first one hired, and it seemed like almost a given that his assistant and Miami alum Barry Schutte would come to Oxford with him, but you haven’t been a part of the coaching staffs at either Miami or Bowling Green. Can you talk about the process of getting hired at Miami?
RUD: When the job came open, obviously as someone who is an outsider and away from the program, right away when premier jobs like this become open, it kind of piques your interest. Coach Bergeron gave me a call and kind of talked about our mutual interest level for a little bit, and it just kind of worked out.
VFTG: What was your relationship with Coach Bergeron prior to joining the RedHawks’ coaching staff?
RUD: We both kind of got into coaching at similar times. I was in Cedar Rapids of the USHL when he was here at Miami, and a mutual friend of ours – Jeff Blashill, now with the Red Wings obviously – Blash and I played junior hockey together, so we knew each other well, so I got to know Chris through that process a little bit.
VFTG: You played five seasons in the minors with six teams, including a full campaign with Québec City in the old IHL. What was your experience like of bouncing around from team to team?
RUD: I was actually in Cincinnati for the playoffs one year…I didn’t play any games but I was sitting there through that. When I got done with Colorado College I went on and played in San Antonio and Québec City my first year in the IHL. And then my second year started in Cincinnati and then ended up going to Florida and then kind of bounced around that year in Salt Lake City and a couple of places but basically stayed in Florida for two years in the East Coast League. And then after that went to Boise, Idaho, just to experience something new. That was when the IHL folded that year and a bunch of guys all went out to the West Coast League, and it was a great league. It was a really high-end league, it was a small league, and we went to San Diego and Tacoma, Washington, and Bakersfield, Long Beach, Anchorage, Alaska – it was a really fun league. So I was pretty lucky, I was able to play in some really cool spots, and two of my three children were born while I was playing. So my daughter was born in Boise, Idaho, and my son was born in Naples, Florida, then my youngest kind of got the shaft. One born in Naples, Florida, one born in Boise, Idaho – two beautiful spots – then my youngest was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
VFTG: When your playing days were over, you jumped immediately into the coaching side. How were you able to find an opportunity behind the bench?
RUD: I always knew I was going to try coaching. I always knew I had an interest in it, I always paid attention to things, and actually when I was in Florida and with Boise…I was a player-assistant coach also, which was a great experience just to try to make recruiting phone calls, start that process, kind of learn the business a little bit on a small scale. And then I talked to some of my former coaches in the college level and they all kind of pointed me in the direction of trying to get in the USHL. I made a bunch of phone calls and I ended up meeting with (long-time USHL coach) Mark Carlson, who was at Cedar Rapids at the time, I spent two years there kind of getting my feet wet. That was my introduction into coaching.
VFTG: After becoming an NCAA assistant for six seasons, you finally got your first head coaching job in the USHL with Green Bay. Your one season there you inherited a really good team with a couple of guys we’re familiar with in Austin Czarnik and Ryan McKay. How was that experience?
RUD: Awesome. It was a great experience, I loved it in Green Bay, we had a good team, and a couple RedHawks on there – they were good guys. The ownership there is fantastic, the city really supports the team well, it was really just a great situation. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re an assistant coach, you always think you have all the answers. Then you step on the other side, and you’re like, oh, geez, I’ve got to make a lot more decisions that you did when you were an assistant. So it was great experience for me to learn that part of the business.
VFTG: Then a coaching position opened up at your alma mater, Colorado College, and you became an NCAA assistant again.
RUD: It was a chance to maybe go back there forever. It didn’t really work out that way in the long run, but it was a great experience. Coach (Scott) Owens is a great guy, and Colorado College is a great place to play and a a great college for kids to attend. It was a good three years there and I enjoyed my time there.
VFTG: From there you became the women’s head coach at St. Cloud. How did you end up jumping to that side of the college game?
RUD: When Coach Owens got let go, I kind of was searching for something different, and I had some options to go back to the USHL as a head coach or some college assistant jobs that were real attractive. At that point in my life, my kids were going to be in ninth grade, seventh grade and fifth grade I believe. Going back to St. Cloud and jumping into women’s hockey was a really good fit for our family at the time. My oldest son was just starting high school, so he got to play high school hockey in Minnesota, which turned out to be a great experience for him, and my daughter, for her it worked out great because when we were living in Colorado…she was playing hockey with the boys and there really weren’t a lot of opportunities for girls. At some point she would’ve had to start playing out of state or something if she wanted to continue, so at that point, for me taking over women’s hockey was great. My boys grew up in the locker room, they were always in and (my daughter) had to stay on the outside, now she got to come into the locker room and hang out and do all that. And it turned out well for her – she’s going to be a senior in high school this year and then she’s committed to go play college hockey at Cornell. Women’s hockey, it’s just as serious, it’s just as intense, it’s just the recruiting’s a little different. There aren’t as many kids out there. On the men’s side, if there’s an open hour in the day, you’re gone, you’re recruiting. You’re going somewhere. Where the women’s game, there aren’t that many places to go, so I really got to be home a lot the last five years and kind of get my kids through high school, and it really was a great experience for me.
VFTG: Are there and philosophical coaching differences in the women’s game vs. the men’s game?
RUD: A little bit. They want to be coached just as much, and they work as hard as any guys I’ve ever been around. The guys all come in junior hockey, and they’ve all been coached, so you can start with pretty much whatever you want in terms of skipping-pass, fundamental this and that. The guys have heard a lot of different things by the time you get them here, where the women, most of them haven’t. Some of them have just been coached by dads and who knows, so you really have to start from scratch in terms of fundamentals and communication. I really had to learn how to communicate better because I couldn’t just come in and say, hey, we’re going to run an overload on this side, because the guys just jump in and know the girls just look at me. They have no idea. Which was great experience for me because I had to really go back and have a better game plan heading into practice or a game or whatever if I was going to switch things. So that part was great, and the actual game itself is kind of fun because it really flows back and forth. Without as many whistles, and it’s a lot more puck possession, it’s not get it, chuck it forward and chase the puck down the ice. You can bring the puck back, have a lot more time and space…I really enjoyed it.
VFTG: So now you’re transitioning back to the men’s game, and I would think it would be difficult to re-learn the field of recruits in such a short time, having been out of the loop for five years. Has that been the biggest challenge of the switch back to men’s hockey?
RUD: You know what? It’s funny, during the summer…I’ve been out on the road and seeing as many people as I can, and it’s still the same, it’s just different names. In some ways, because recruiting has gotten so young now, by the time a kid gets to be 17, 18, every college in the country has seen most of these kids 10, 20 times over five years. What’s been kind of nice for me is coming back with fresh eyes, because I haven’t seen the pool in five years. So coming in, and instead of writing a kid off when they’re 15 and then they’re on the ‘no’ list for that university for however many years, I come in with fresh eyes and see things a little different. It’s been kind of nice, getting back into that part. So I think it’s been a little bit of advantage in terms of that. Everything’s the same, nothing’s changed in five years. Hockey’s still hockey, players are still players. Recruiting has kind of sped up a little bit but now with the new legislation that went through hopefully that will slow it down, just a little bit so we can at least kids to where they’re sophomores and juniors before they’re committing.
VTFG: It seems like one of your best advantages is that you should know this league as well as anyone, being raised in Minnesota, attending and coaching at Colorado College and also being behind the bench for both the men and women at St. Cloud State. If anyone would know the type of players it takes to win in the NCHC, it would be you. Do you think that’s a big advantage for you as an associate head coach at Miami?
RUD: It’s nice that I was around the NCHC when it started. I was around the first couple years, I was around before it started, so I’ve been used to recruiting against the same schools in terms of Denver, and North Dakota and Duluth. So I have a lot of familiarity with the league, and jumping right in, I kind of know what we’re getting into right away. So I’m not coming in blind, that’s for sure.
VFTG: Coach Schutte was a forward, you were a defenseman, so is it kind of a given that you’ll coach the D-men, and what is your role going to be on game night?
RUD: I’m going to work with the D, and I’m excited for that, and Barry will kind of be the point man for the forwards. In coaching, we’re all coaching all of them, (if anyone) ever has a question, they can come to me. I’m actually really looking forward to that too, having been a head coach and at CC I was working with the forwards there – it’s just kind of the way it worked out – but I’m really looking forward to getting back with my guys, the D-corps. The one thing that’s really about stepping back and being assistant coach again is: As a head coach it’s really hard to develop relationships with the players. It’s just a different relationship. You’re the one that always has to be the bad guy when you’re the head coach, and that’s just kind of the nature of it. It’s harder to spend a lot of quality time with each player just because you’re dealing with everything else. Where now, I can step back, hunker down with our defensemen and really get to know them personally and just help them move on. By the time they leave this place they’re going to be as good as they can possibly be and hopefully they’ll move on and do great things.
VFTG: You’ve obviously been talking to potential recruits for several months now, so with Miami have been in decline the past few seasons, can you talk about what kind of a sell this program is when you’re talking to potential RedHawks?
RUD: I’ll tell you what: The place sells itself. People come on this campus and they’re blown away. Part of the reason when this opportunity came up that I was so intrigued is I understand it’s great place and I know kids want to come here. It’s really such a unique combination of a Division I school with the great education package, and the facilities are as good as any in the country. So we’ve had great response. Put it this way: Whenever we make phone calls, no one shuts the phone off and hides from us. They’re interested, and I think it’s one of the real special places in college hockey and I’m just really, really proud to be part of it.
VFTG: Coach Bergeron and Coach Schutte did great things at Bowling Green, turning that program around, and now they’re at Miami and you’re joining them and bringing your experience at multiple levels, so how optimistic are you for the future of this program with the three of you behind the bench?
RUD: Can’t wait. We just want to get started tomorrow, and I’m just excited that it’s finally here. It’s been kind of surreal since this has all happened, I’ve been running around and doing stuff and now we’re back here hunkering down together. The sky’s the limit for this program, no doubt about it. We’ve seen what it has been in the past and we know what it can look like, and we’re just excited to get it back to where it should be.
VFTG: It had to be quite a whirlwind these past few months, with being hired and moving your entire family here. Can you talk about how this off-season has gone for you?
RUD: I was here for two weeks in June, kind of here to sign my papers in May, and then I was just kind of based out of Minnesota for the summer because it didn’t really matter where we were – we were waiting to move into a place, so we got that all figured out. It’s kind of just been recruiting out of Minnesota, enjoying the last couple of weeks out on the lake in Northern Minnesota, trying to catch a bunch of fish, because now it’s go time. We’re just excited to see what we have, because we don’t know what we have for this year yet. We’ll see when we get started.
VFTG: Coaches Bergeron and Schutte have been together in some capacity for a long time, and you’re sort of the outsider. How accepting have they been of you, and knowing both of them a little bit, I’m going to guess very accepting?
RUD: Yes. It’s been awesome. I’ve known them both a little bit in the past, and especially with this transition of going back and forth and figuring everything out, they’ve been just awesome and very understanding. It’s kind of nice that those two have been together, they’ve had success, they’ve built a program. I’ve been around that in the past where I’ve been, so it’s kind of a different voice joining what they have, so hopefully it’ll be some fresh ideas of things that they like and maybe things that they didn’t quite like, maybe I’ll have a little different voice here as we get going and it’ll be a nice mesh. We get along really well together and it’s going to be a fun staff to be around.
VFTG: School is back, and the season is fast approaching, so in this short remaining off-season, what is the plan to get the team ready for opening night?
RUD: We’ll get them in, start the weight training right away, we’ll get a couple of good weeks of that – that’s the biggest thing this time of year – and then we’ll come up with a game plan of how to attack September. We have a good game plan right now, now we’re just in the final stages of tweaking it, figuring out exactly how it’s going to work. Part of it is, especially first year, everyone together, we’ll have a good plan of how to attack the on-ice piece, how we’re going to that in terms of skill sessions, team practices. It’s a long season, so you don’t want to jump in, full bore, the first week of September and get right into your forecheck and power play, you sort of need to work up to things. So we’re going to work up to that first game and get everything in that we need to get in, and we’ll be ready to go when the puck drops.
SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Jan. 24-25 – at Miami; Feb. 21-22 – at Denver.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Devin Cooley, F Liam Finlay, F Emilio Pettersen, F Cole Guttman, D Ian Mitchell, D Slava Demin.
KEY NEW FACES: F Bobby Brink, D Justin Lee, G Magnus Chrona.
KEY LOSSES: F Jarid Lukosevicius, F Colin Staub, D Lester Lancaster, G Filip Larsson.
NOTES: A major key to Denver’s success in 2018-19 was its goaltending.
The Pioneers allowed just 83 goals in
41 games, and both of their netminders posted goals-against averages
below 2.00 and save percentages north of .930.
Half of DU’s starting tandem is back in 2019-20, with Devin Cooley returning for his junior campaign after posting a 1.85 GAA and .934 save percentage last season. Detroit draftee Filip Larsson turned pro after just one year in the NCAA.
Also back for Denver is last season’s leading scorer, Liam Finlay, who had just 34 points his first two seasons with the Pioneers but notched 36 in 2018-19.
Calgary draft pick Emilio Pettersen, last season’s team leader in assists with 24, also returns, as do Cole Guttman and Brett Stapley – selections of Tampa Bay and Montréal, respectively – sophomores-to-be who combined for 19 goals and 45 points as rookies.
On the blue line, Chicago draftee Ian Mitchell led the team in defenseman goals (6), assists (21) and points (27), and he finished with a plus-18 rating.
Michael Davies went 4-12-16, playing in all 41 games, and Vegas pick and blue chip prospect Slava Demin is expected to take another step forward after going 4-10-14 as a freshman.
As successful as Denver was last
season, the team power play was a liability, converting at just a
15.2 percent clip and only 12.5 in NCHC play.
The Pioneers also struggled in league
road games, finishing just 4-7-1 in NCHC play away from Magness
DU has a six-member freshman class, including 5-feet-8 forward Bobby Brink, who was second in the USHL with 35 goals for 68 points as a center last season, and Swedish goalie and Tampa draft pick Magnus Chrona.
Defenseman Justin Lee is also expected to make an immediate impact after recording six goals and 24 assists for Lincoln and Fargo of the USHL in 2018-19.
It was easy to predict a slide for Denver entering last season after the coaching and player departures, but then-rookie Carle thrived behind the DU bench, and with another talent-laden roster, the Pioneers should enjoy plenty of success again in his second campaign.
Colorado College finally won its first NCHC first-round playoff series last season, but the Tigers lost a ton of key talent from a 2018-19 team that has been on the rise the past two years.
CC’s top three points-producing
forwards, three starting defensemen and a goalie that logged 40 games
all departed after the team qualified for its first-ever Frozen
Faceoff following a best-of-3 conference tournament series win at
View From the Glass takes a look at Colorado College in Part I of its seven-part 2019-20 snapshot series.
COLORADO COLLEGE TIGERS
NCAA TITLES: 2 (1950, 1957).
COACH: Mike Haviland (52-116-17 in five seasons).
2018-19 RECORD: 17-20-4.
2019 POSTSEASON: Advanced to the NCHC Frozen faceoff, lost to St. Cloud in the semifinal.
RINK (capacity): Colorado Springs World Arena (7,343), Colorado Springs, Colo.
MIAMI VS. COLORADO COLLEGE LAST SEASON: 1-3.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Colorado College, 11-9-2.
SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Jan. 10-11 – at Colorado College.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: D Bryan Yoon, F Ben Copeland, F Chris Wilkie, F Grant Cruikshank, D Kristian Blumenschein.
KEY NEW FACES: F Josiah Slavin, F Sam Renlund, D Casey Staum, G Matt Vernon.
KEY LOSSES: F Trey Bradley, F Westin Michaud, F Mason Bergh, F Trevor Gooch, D Ben Israel, D Andrew Farny, D Cole McCaskill, G Alex Leclerc.
NOTES: The Tigers’ losses were significant, and they were arguably hit hardest in net, as their three goalies heading into this season boast a combined 23 minutes of NCAA ice time.
Freshman Matt Vernon’s father, Mike, was an NHL stud who led the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 1997, and the younger Vernon has the opportunity to take over the reins in net immediately following a 40-win season and .934 save percentage with NAHL Aberdeen.
But Ryan Ruck has transferred in as a graduate senior from Northeastern after winning 44 games there and posting a 1.01 goals-against average in six games last season, so he may challenge for ice time.
Ben Copeland is the lone returning forward to reach 20 points last season, going 9-12-21 as a freshman.
Colorado College’s only incumbent NHL draft pick, Chris Wilkie, is back for his senior season after scoring six goals and assisting in 13 more in 20 games.
Grant Cruikshank scored 11 times, Alex Berardinelli netted nine goals and Troy Conzo and Erik Middendorf potted seven each for this corps in 2018-19.
On defense, Bryan Yoon recorded more than three times as many points as any other CC blueliner, finishing with three goals and 23 assists for 26. Kristian Blumenschein ended the season with eight, and three others tallied seven.
Blumenschein enters his senior season, and Zach Berzolla (0-7-7) also returns on a corps that notched just 17 non-Yoon points in 2018-19.
The Tigers’ talented eight-man freshman
class includes four defensemen, three of which are USHL products.
Blueliner Casey Staum was selected by Montréal three seasons ago, and fellow first-year D-man Connor Mayer boasts four years of USHL experience.
Up front, Josiah Slavin, a seventh-round Chicago Blackhawks draft pick and younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes standout Jaccob Slavin, is expected to make an immediate impact.
A sentimental rookie favorite for Miami fans is Patrick Cozzi, son of former RedHawk (actually Redskin) Andy Cozzi, who recorded 114 points for MU in 1981-85. The younger Cozzi tallied 58 points in the BCHL last season.
It could be argued that Colorado
College deserved a better fate than three games under .500 last
season, as the Tigers outscored their opponents by three goals,
117-114 and were dead even in conference play goal differential,
finding the net 65 times – same as their opponents.
Miami visits Colorado College in
mid-January, and the Tigers are the only NCHC team that does not
travel to Oxford this season.
Colorado College has a lot of key
losses to overcome, so the Tigers may struggle to win games this
season, but they have quality young players and could be set up for
success beyond 2019-20.
Barry Schutte was named associate head coach by Miami in mid-May.
Schutte was an assistant for Chris Bergeron at Bowling Green the past nine years, where the duo pulled a program from the brink of extinction to NCAA Tournament participants this spring.
The Thunder Bay, Ont., native played
for the RedHawks in 1994-98, and was the team captain his senior year
when Miami qualified for the NCAAs for just the second time in
He played 131 games for MU, scoring 25
goals and dishing for 33 assists.
After graduating, Schutte became the
head coach of Miami’s club hockey team, where he won a national
championship, and he also was an assistant for the USHL Chicago Steel
for two seasons before rejoining the RedHawks as the director of
Goggin Ice Center, a position he held until being lured to BGSU in
VFTG recently talked to the new
VFTG: So after Bowling Green lost in the NCAA Tournament this March, could you have imagined you’d be an associate head coach at your alma mater months later?
SCHUTTE: At that point, things were starting to unfold and we were heading to the national tournament. I guess in the back of our minds when we left nine or 10 years ago we always thought that at some point in time, some day, that this day could come, but you never know if it will come to fruition or not. It all happened real fast. As much as you think of that possibility and that bridge could come for you to cross it, I don’t think you’re holding your breath for it and it all moved pretty quickly. Surprise isn’t the word I’m looking for, but 20 years is a long run and you never know if someone expects to make change and if they will. Personally it was an opportunity that excited me, for sure when it all happened really quickly.
VFTG: Several months have past since you’ve been hired so now that you’ve moved and are really digging into the position, what’s it like holding what has to be a dream job for you?
SCHUTTE: A hundred percent it is a dream job for me. It’s a job that I’ve wanted an opportunity at over the course of my professional career, but the stars didn’t align at different moments in the past. I feel like there’s a plan up there and things happen for a reason and work out the way they’re supposed to. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working for Miami University in various capacities with the rec auxiliaries and the Goggin Ice Center. The whole time, obviously as a hockey guy walking around the building every day, wanting to be involved with the team and wanting to contribute and help the team succeed. So to have that opportunity truly present itself and be real is surreal for me and very exciting.
VFTG: Can you talk about how the process of actually being offered the job went down?
SCHUTTE: (Coach Bergeron) and I are really good friends and we go way back and once he was working his way though the interview process, we communicated and talked about how it was going for him and how that might impact us at Bowling Green, and me personally and my family, and how it could play out a couple different ways. Our friendship and relationship is strong to the point where if this did pan out for him and it was an opportunity that he was granted and ultimately would seize, that he would want me to be a part of it. Ultimately that started some personal discussions for my household and my family, and my wife and I because we really did get everything that we wanted out of Bowling Green and the community and the campus and hockey. But at the end of the day when he accepted the job and it came to fruition, we were pretty excited about the possibility and just sat down and had a real conversation. The prelude to that was: If this happens, we’d like you to be a part of it, ok, now it has happened, do you still feel that way and are we going to do this? It moved pretty quickly and we were in communication throughout the process.
VFTG: You were a freshman at Miami in the fall of 1994 and graduated in 1998. What was your favorite on-ice moment while wearing the Red and White – the NCAA Tournament appearance Miami made your senior season?
SCHUTTE: Yeah, I think so. My freshman year was an experience that I’ll never forget. A small-town kid from northwest Ontario who probably didn’t know where Ohio was, much less Oxford. That whole experience pushed me outside my comfort zone – in a positive way, it was a lot of fun. There’s some games that catch your attention along the way that are significant moments, but that senior year, Miami hockey had not necessarily been in a position where national tournament appearances were a regular thing. Coach Bergeron’s senior year – the year before I got here – they were able to accomplish that for the first time, so now I felt like our group was charged with the task of trying to make it more of a regular thing and prove that we belong on the national stage. That whole season and having the success that we did, ultimately any other year we could’ve potentially won a championship. Michigan was such a good team that year, we came up just short of that, but helping get the national recognition for the Miami hockey program was very rewarding, especially being part of a small senior class at that point in time had a little part in leading the way.
VFTG: You were an excellent player at Miami, you were team captain your senior year and you have good size for a forward, yet you never played pro hockey. Did you have offers to go pro and decide to go a different path?
SCHUTTE: I knew my limitations. I was probably an East Coast (Double-A) player at the time, and I had some of those opportunities present themselves. But honestly, some Miami friends of mine who had graduated the year before that were employed in the Chicago area kind of encouraged me to meet with some folks that they were working for, and I did that. I was a 20-year-old freshman so I was the older senior too, and I guess I knew my hockey career was going to be short lived. I went on the interview and they offered me a job, unexpectedly. Being Canadian, they were willing to work through the immigration process and the work visa process, which, to me at that point was the golden ticket. They don’t prepare you for that – come down and play college hockey in the States and you love it down here, but then, well wait, how do you stay? And that was a hurdle. So I knew messing around in the East Coast (Hockey League) would’ve been short-term, and with my game at that time it would’ve been more of a fighter’s role, which I would’ve been OK with, but again, at 24, 25, that’s not going to last, I’m not going to enjoy that very long. So it was just circumstance, honestly, it’s the way it played out. There was a point in time when I had accepted the job and the immigration process that it looked like it was going to take longer than it did, and I was going to go play with (former Miamians) Marc Boxer and Andrew Backen and Andrew Miller down in Memphis (of the CHL) at the time, but then it all worked out where I didn’t end up playing pro. And for me, I look back on that quite often, honestly, and I wonder if I had not done that and chosen to pursue a professional career outside of hockey and pursued the immigration process, would I be standing here today. You just never know, so it all happens for a reason.
VFTG: So at age 27, you ended up back in Oxford and you became the club hockey coach, where you amazingly won the national championship in your first season. That’s quite a beginning to your hockey coaching career.
SCHUTTE: I make sure I remind (club coach) Mark Frankenfeld of that all the time. He coached the club team for a long time and never came up with (a title). We made it look easy that first year. With my coaching career, that will go down as a very memorable moment because it was my first year coaching and honestly I had no idea what I was talking about. At the club level, you’re the head coach, the assistant coach, the equipment manager, the general manager – you do it all. So it was a fulfilling and very rewarding experience. We had a great group of guys. Club hockey is very competitive, there’s lots of hockey players out there and only so much room for them at the varsity level in college athletics in the hockey world. Miami has a rich tradition of being a top program, and we had a really good young corps of freshmen that helped push us over the top, and the stars aligned and it worked out as far as you get the right draw at the national tournament and your goalie gets hot and you get a couple fortunate bounces. It’s a true appreciation for the sport because those kids pay to play…they fund themselves and they’re playing for the love of the game. I wasn’t sure if coaching was going to be a real passion of mine or not at that point in time. But that year and that experience brought that out in me and basically told me that if I can be around the game and be coaching in some capacity that I need to find a way, because it was that much fun with those guys. Twenty years (ago) this year, we’re coming up on. That’s crazy, we’re talking about bringing them all back this season if we can.
VFTG: So you were hired in the spring and you’ve been an associate head coach for several months now. Obviously you had to move to Oxford from Bowling Green, but shifting into this role for Miami, what has been your main focus since accepting the job?
SCHUTTE: First and foremost was trying to make sure the personal side of it was taken care of and my family has what it needs throughout this process because without their support I definitely couldn’t be doing this. It’s a big deal for the kids – I’ve got a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old – and it’s a lot for them. So once we had those ducks in line it was 100 percent working with Berg and (fellow associate coach) Eric (Rud), trying to evaluate the situation. Obviously, recruiting is a huge, huge role and responsibility that we’ll share together. We’ll all coordinate, and I’ll be the pivot on scheduling and so on and so forth. We’ve tried to assess and talk to and speak with as many of those players who’ve shown interest in Miami, whether it be a verbal commitment or not, there’s been some time of relationship with the university and the hockey program and re-introduce ourselves to them and let them get to know me and us a little better but also get to know them and just see if we’re speaking the same language or not and is this still a journey they want to continue and a relationship they want to sustain. So that’s what the first couple months were. (I) didn’t have much time to know the current players because school ended quickly after this all happened, so I’m very much looking forward to the next few weeks to get to spend some time with our current players, but ultimately I tried to reach out to all of them and get to know them over the phone. It was relationship building and networking with our current players and establishing some form of relationship with the future players and truly seeing who is still feeling the same way and has the same interest. I know a lot of them through the recruiting ranks over the last few years – I would’ve seen them playing here or there – but I just don’t know them as people.
VFTG: Are there certain advantages in being a Miami alum when it comes to recruiting?
SCHUTTE: Having walked in their shoes before, I hope they can be a little more trusting in what they’re hearing. Berg and I obviously lived it on this campus, but it’s not about me, and that’s the biggest thing that I’ve tried to emphasize to these kids. As much as this is a dream job for me and I couldn’t be more excited to be back, this is a special place, a special community on and off campus and I can’t wait for you to experience that. Having said that, this is your deal. I’ve had my time and I would do it again if they’d let me, but we want to make it about them. It’s their time and their journey and hopefully we can help them navigate that to the best of their abilities, and that’s where I think experience comes in on campus. As a college student and as a student athlete, you’re going to stumble along the way at times and you’re going to need someone standing next to you to help you navigate through that, and we obviously have a plethora of experience doing so on this campus and hopefully that can help them succeed on a daily basis.
VFTG: You’re moving from the WCHA to the NCHC, which I don’t think anyone can argue is the best Division I league in the NCAA. In the short time that you’ve been talking to kids during the recruiting process, do you find that the NCHC brand and the ability to tell kids they’ll be playing the Denvers and the Duluths and the North Dakotas of the college hockey world is a major selling point for elite young hockey talent?
SCHUTTE: I think the easy and obvious answer is yes. It goes without saying the success the conference has had, and in particular certain teams in the conference. But I think if kids and families are making college decisions – which is a 4-year experience – based upon a league, they’re probably making the wrong decisions if that’s at the top of your list. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be on the list – probably should be – because with that comes commitment level of all schools, commitment level of your school, which people want to see that level of commitment to their hockey program. So I think Miami hockey for years has gone embattled in recruiting wars against the Notre Dames and the Michigans and the Michigan States and the Ohio States for years, and I don’t think they won or lost any of those recruiting battles based on whatever conference those teams were in. We know what we are and what makes us successful, and we believe Miami has a particular niche and we’re a particular fit for certain student-athletes, and that’s where I can speak to my own experience. I get Ohio State’s campus or Michigan’s campus and I get really uncomfortable – that’s not my vibe. And I think that’s true for kids today. We know Oxford is special and unique and Miami has lots to offer but we also know it’s not for everybody. I think what we’re selling is Miami University and Miami athletics and Miami hockey. We believe that, in the recruiting world, will win out in the end more times than not against anybody on any day in any conference. But being part of a body that has success at a national stage, year in and year out, with the winningest conference in non-conference play, it doesn’t hurt. It’s another feather in your cap when it comes down to sitting on those couches with those kids to say, you can have success at the highest level in Division I college athletics when it comes to hockey in one of the top conferences, and why not you?
VFTG: How difficult is it do go from a program that you had become comfortable with after nine years and you knew what you were going to do every day and had helped build to the point where it was getting better every season to one that has been trending downward for a handful of years and won just two games after Thanksgiving in 2018-19, and to make that adjustment in a very short period of time?
SCHUTTE: I’ve given that a little thought this summer because I don’t want to say we took things for granted, but you just put your head down and you’re grinding and you’re recruiting and you’re working and you’re coaching and living and doing all that and the last few years kind of happened. And then all in the sudden you look back on it, and well yeah, it was a pretty good run and we had things in a good spot. Not necessarily doing anything different last year than four years ago, it just takes time for the culture to establish itself. You have to win to attract recruits, and obviously you need recruits to win, so you have to juggle that balance a little bit. It’s a little different niche when it comes to recruiting where we were compared to where we are now, which means it probably took a little longer to get the talent that we wanted to have the success on the national stage. I’m excited about a fresh start. You’ve got a lot of new challenges – you’ve got a whole new roster. Obviously I’ll work with forwards and power play, so now trying to figure out how all those pieces (fit). There’s a comfort in knowing exactly where all those pieces fit together but there’s also an excitement and an enthusiasm about the challenge of trying to work through that and figure it all all out. So I’m very much looking forward to figuring out how the current pieces to this puzzle on the ice fit together and getting to know the young men in that locker room and obviously with the future (players) as well, and knowing that the elite players in North America are going to want to hear from Miami hockey, and that excites me, where we had to find a different recruiting niche where we were before.
VFTG: Bowling Green was literally on the verge of extinction when you and Coach Bergeron arrived there, having won just five games the previous season, and it took you nine years but you won 25 games with the Falcons in 2018-19 and made the NCAA Tournament, the first time that program had accomplished that in three decades. Does the overhaul you and Bergeron were able to make there give you confidence in your ability to do it again with a team that isn’t in nearly as dire of straits?
SCHUTTE: For sure, and we know exactly what we’ve been doing for the past nine years. It’s ironic how the timing works out. For us to play Minnesota-Duluth in the national tournament this past year, who won this conference, who won back-to-back national championships, who we feel – and their coaches would probably tell you – we were one of their hardest games all year. We had that game won, we were five minutes away from winning that game and knocking off the defending champion, who had their way in this conference last year, kind-of sort-of. So we’re proving that the plan works, and as long as we stick to the plan and execute it at a high level, that we can go head-to-head against the top programs out there, and now you do so with a different recruiting field now, that excites you. You have have hopefully a longer reach when it comes to recruiting and different levels of players that…will help us bring in top talent that can help us accomplish those things at a high level one season to the next.
VFTG: I’m glad you and Coach Bergeron were able to figure out how to play against UMD, because that team has owned Miami since the inception of this league, and that team is obviously going to be a team the RedHawks will have to have to play better against to have success in this league.
SCHUTTE: Honestly they reminded me of some of Miami teams of the past when (former coach Enrico Blasi) and Berg and those guys were having their runs of national tournaments and ultimately the Frozen Fours, Duluth had a similar blueprint. Really good goaltending, a strong back end, some offensive guys who were dangerous but some big, strong, hard-to-play-against defensemen, and a group of forwards that scored by committee, obviously had a few top players, but it was a team-first mentality, and it was a good mix of everything, and that’s what (Duluth) reminded me of, and honestly the team we were trying to build and the thought we built at Bowling Green. So I think it’s a similar blueprint, and I can’t have an opinion today as far as how close we are to that here at Miami or how far away we are from that day, but I know we’ve got a lot of young men on this roster that committed for the right reasons and hopefully a fresh voice and a little bit of a new plan can reinvigorate to hopefully have some of their best years over the next couple of years to come.
VFTG: We thought the Jordan Uhelski storyline for opening night was pretty cool last season, where a graduate transfer goalie started on opening night against his former team, Alabama-Huntsville. But having Bowing Green as Miami’s Game 1 opponent blows that out of the water. What’s that going to be like for you?
SCHUTTE: Again, when you look at it from 10,000 feet, it all lines up. The storylines and the side stories are unreal when you look at all that. You couldn’t have scripted that, especially since we didn’t play this year, and all in the sudden it’s on the schedule and all of this happens. I’m very glad that it’s here first because I think having to go back there the first game of the year would be extremely difficult, and it’s going to be difficult in December because those boys and those families and that community put a bunch of trust and faith in us as people heading up that organization. Obviously there’s a lot of love and relationships there that we hope last a lifetime, and we’ll be cheering for them to have a lot of success in years to come, just not on those nights when they’re facing the RedHawks. We’re going to hopefully look for some bragging rights and get that first win under the belt early, and no better opponent to take it out on than some old friends.
VFTG: Thanks a lot for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, and we wish you and the entire coaching staff nothing but success moving forward.
SCHUTTE: I can tell you this: We, and myself in particular, we’re going to work tirelessly to make everyone proud of the program, and it’s not a matter of is it going to happen, it’s just a matter of when, and that’s one of the reasons we were so excited to come back here, because we truly knew that everything is in place for this to be great and to be a national contender, year in and year out, and now it’s just a matter of getting to work, so we’re excited to do just that.